Friday, November 30, 2012

How Front Squats and Deadlifting saved my knees

This is the story of how I went from being "diagnosed" with arthritis in my knees, to being relatively pain free. I was a runner. Since the 8th grade I've been running. I went from track to cross country to 5K's, you name it. Then there's the always fun challenge of "Why not a marathon?" Back in 2007, I ventured out to start training for my first of three marathons. NYC! The holy grail of marathons. 18 week schedule, gradually increasing in distance per run, and weekly mileage. During that training I tackled a few half marathons, no big deal. 13.1 miles, no problem. And for the most part they weren't. Training went pretty smoothly during the 18 weeks, some minor pains, blisters, etc. Nothing major.
Then the big race. So pumped full of adrenaline, I didn't even feel the first 3 miles or so. Especially the mile and a half going over the Verrazano. But as the miles progressed, and the constant pounding continued, my knees started getting more and more achy. Going up the Queensboro Bridge, that's when I felt my knees start to go. I managed to finish, but not without pain.
Eventually the pain would subside and I would feel like nothing ever happened. So I ended up doing 2 more. Another NYC, and Disney(which was super fun actually). Same result though. My knees would kill me. So I took off to see the Dr. and that is where my "diagnosis" of arthritis came in.
It made sense. I could barely do body weight squats without my right knee going crazy with pain.

Here I was at 25, 26, suffering from arthritis!

This had to stop. I took to training. At first little physical therapy exercises to help strengthen my quads and hamstrings, but then I started incorporating a foam roller. Let me tell you, that made a world of difference. I would roll every major muscle group in my legs and stretch as much as possible. Soon I was able to do body weight squats with little to no pain. Awesome, that was step 1. Just a side note, my squats are ass to grass, none of that half squat BS you see. As long as my form is fine, that's what I aim for. *Read my baby squat post!!

As I got better, I tried adding in back squats, but I couldn't go anywhere. Shooting pain in my right knee right away. So I decided to hold back from squats and I started adding in deadlifts. Being that there is very little knee flexion involved in the deadlift, it was a really safe choice to develop my leg strength. And it totally did. The more often I deadlifted(and actually KB swings too) the better my knee would feel doing squats. Maybe I had a crazy anterior/posterior imbalance going on.

Then I started adding in front squats. Pain free front squats I might add!! So my program consisted of deadlifts, front squats, swings, among other things. But those were the primary exercises on my road to recovery. Each week, I would hit these lifts, and each week, it would be pain free. However, any time I tried to do a back squat, the right knee would flare up and be an angry elf(must be a south pole elf.....ELF movie anyone??...)

So back to my program i went. I even tried doing box squats with the load on my back. That was a little better, but still a little painful. So I kept at my DL, front squat routine. This went on for a few years with my training. I would never back squat. Just didn't want to risk it.
Then one day, this past year actually, during a strength phase of a program, I decided for the hell of it to try to back squat. Wouldn't you know it, ass to grass back squat, ZERO pain!! I was freaking ecstatic. I hadn't been able to do that in such a long time. It was amazing. Talk about an accomplishment.
I owed it all to front squatting, deadlifting, and foam rolling. In retrospect, I probably had muscle imbalances going on from my quads being over developed from running long distances, and developing compensation patterns. I will say, I definitely had a lot of trigger points in my hips, glutes, TFL, and calves. So a lot of crap going on. So I think I'm proof that even if you have arthritis in your knees, the best solution is to work on correcting any imbalances and actually squatting/deadlifting your way to healthier knees.

That's my crazy story and I'm sticking to it.

Favorite Things of the week

I always like finding interesting articles and passing them onto you.  Enjoy this weeks edition of things that I found interesting.  My hope is that something in one of these articles will help you on your journey to a healthier, fitter life. 

It all comes down to nutrition for most people.  No matter how hard you work, if your diet is garbage, you'll see no results.  That's not to say that you wont get stronger, but if your goal is fat loss(notice i said fat loss, not weight loss) then diet is key!!

Pick your side.  A tale of two kingdoms

Healthy Recipes

Working out with someone can help you burn more calories.  That is why semi-private and group training sessions work really well.

Great list of ways to achieve greatness

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Is this your life?

Is this you?

Does this represent what you do all day?  Chances are this is exactly what you look like.  Even as you're reading this, you are probably demonstrating this posture that has plagued our population. 
There is so much going on in the body when you sit like this and its easy to see with the aid of this skeleton. 
Rounded shoulders, pelvis is tilted, head and neck are forward, and the thoracic spine/upper back is super curved.  The rib cage almost looks compressed as well.  No doubt the shoulders are elevated into a shrug position.  Its almost as if this person is trying to get into a teeny tiny ball.  This posture leads to a lot of problems, namely pain and injury associated with your lower back and shoulders.  Poor posture and poor mobility, especially in the shoulder joint tends to lead towards impingement, or rotator cuff problems.  This presentation can also lead to tight hip flexors which will pull your pelvis into an anterior tilt and can be the cause of any of that low back pain you're experiencing. 

Now if this is you, do yourself a favor, fix your posture. Straighten up, pull your shoulders back, and open up you chest.  The more you focus on correcting and being aware of your posture, the less likely you'll be injured or have pain.  Now it wont be an overnight success in correcting your posture.  But the more you work at it, the better off you'll be. 
Here are a few tips to help you along the way:

1.  Stretch your chest, and hip flexors especially.  Posture like this tends to present with tight pec muscles and tight hip flexors. 
2. In addition to stretching, you should be foam rolling your upper back and hip complex in order to increase its range of motion.  This especially includes the hip flexors. 
3.  Finally doing exercises that require you to strengthen muscles that have been weakened by your poor posture.  For the upper back, you should focus on exercises that retract or squeeze your shoulder blades.  This can include supermans, body weight rows, or dumbbell/machine rows.  But you know i don't advocate machine use ;-)  Maybe in this case only.  Also work on simple retraction exercises with low weight.  Also shoulder slides on the wall/stick ups are a great way to increase shoulder range of motion. 
For the hips, concentrating on hip bridges, crab walks, and reverse planks should help "wake up" your glutes and help with that pelvic tilt. 

In summary, this classic "office worker" posture is becoming more and more common in the gym and in clients that I see.  If you let this slip for too long, it may lead to problems along the way.  Do yourself a big favor, try working on the 3 tips I provided, and maybe you'll help correct the way you sit and even stand. 

Good Luck!!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Motivation Monday

Today is the best day to start (anything.) Procrastination is contagious. Wait until tomorrow and you may find yourself waiting until next week, next month or next year.

Get after it!!!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

What I'm Thankful For

It's Thanksgiving and there is lots to be thankful for this year.

-My health and the health of my family and friends.

-My son who is the best thing I've ever done with my life.

-That I can move and move well.

-To be surrounded by a lot of love.

-That I get to do something I'm passionate about and I'm able to help so many people.

-For my clients who enable me to have the career that I love and keep me going.

-My clients passion about getting healthy and changing their lives.

-Thankful for everyone that has been in my life as they have shaped who I have become and will be.

What are you thankful for?

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Turkey Day!!

Here comes Turkey Day!! This is my favorite holiday of the year, mostly because I get to eat, eat, eat. Oh and watch football all day.
The best part is the leftovers where i can create awesome turkey/cranberry/gravy sandwiches. Actually I look forward to that more than anything.

Unfortunately this year I also have to sit through an ugly Jet/Patriot game at night. At least Gronkowski is out but seriously, what is wrong with the Jets.

Now I know most people will be shocked that I enjoy my Thanksgiving dinner and splurge.

"But you're a personal trainer! Shouldn't you be watching what you're eating and controlling yourself."

Yea but I'm also human. And seriously, one day of splurging isn't going to kill me. Or you. And I'm not suggesting getting so stuffed that you pop a button, need to undo your belt, or can't move, but don't stress about it. People get too worked up about "surviving the holidays," that they forget what the holidays are all about...
Spending time with family and friends and celebrating the last year!
Especially on Thanksgiving (another "what I'm thankful for" post coming soon).

Now what I do want you to do is work your butt off all week leading up to it, and then right after, on "Black Friday" you should be back on track in terms of training program and diet. Hit the gym hard, not the sales. The best thing you can do is to get in a hard, solid workout the next day so that you don't slide back into bad habits.
Black Friday should be a day not for shopping and getting 50% off things you probably don't need, but for getting in another intense workout to get back on track right away. The longer you go after splurging, the harder it'll be to get back on track and on your program.

Thanksgiving is all about sharing the past year with family and celebrating, not stressing about what to eat. Do yourself a favor, relax and enjoy the company you are with.


Happy Thanksgiving!!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Motivation Monday

Todays quote is taken from the IFET course i took this weekend with Kettlebell Concepts and Vincent Metzo.
Oh and also the Greeks.

"Mens sana in corpore sano."

which translates to:

"A sound mind in a sound body."

You should not only develop your body while in the gym, but also your mind. Complex movement patterns and movement skills help create new neurological pathways and develop the mind.
Don't just do mind numbing cardio or machine to machine resistance training, go out and learn to move better.
You'll be healthier both in mind and body for it.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Favorite things of the week

This week we have a few articles that I found really interesting.

Nutrition broken down by macronutrients. A great read

8 great tips to maintain weight loss and sticking with your goals.

Life is all about choices...are you choices the right ones?

This last one is super important because many people take some sort of pill to help ease the pain of soreness and that might not be the best approach.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Are you doing these wrong?

Squats, Swings, and Lunges.

3 amazing, metabolism boosting exercises. 3 exercises requiring a great amount of strength, skill, and body mechanics. 3 exercises that i see done incorrectly in most gym members/clients. Now this could be due simply to bad body mechanics, bad posture, or bad movement patterns. Or it could be that the movement pattern wasn't learned correctly as has always been poor. When done incorrectly, these movements can lead to injuries to the hips, knees, lower back, and even ankles.
The key to learning these movement patterns is to regress in order to progress. Start simple and get the basics in order, so that you can progress to more complicated movements that involve multiple joints.

Lets start with the squat. In one of my previous posts, titled "Start acting like a 3 year old," I showed a picture of a baby doing a perfect squat. Problem is, we lack that same kind of form due to postural issues, and various compensation patterns we develop as we age. The squat, especially the deep squat involves a lot of mobility through the hips, but also requires that one has proper mobility through the ankles and thoracic spine. Oh and stability through the knees and lumbar spine (thank you Gray Cook's joint by joint approach).
Here is the way to execute a proper squat:
1. Stand with feet hip width apart, maybe a little wider.
2.  Initiate the movement by pushing the hips back, and then bending the knees, lower yourself down at least till thighs are parallel to ground if not lower. 
3.  Make sure you keep your head and chest up and avoid bending from the waist. 
4.  Once you reach a proper depth, drive through the heels and push you body up.

Of course there a many variations and all sorts of movements and tools you can add to make it a more challenging exercise.  Regress before you can progress.  Get the simple part down, before you start making it complex.  Too many people want to jump in and play with all the fun toys before mastering the basics. 

Next, the swing.  I hate improper swings.  I really really really hate it.  I hate seeing gym members do it, I hate seeing other trainers try to "teach" it.  I guess it's become one of my pet peeves to the point that when I see someone pick up a kettlebell, I have one eye on my client, and one eye on this unwelcomed distraction.  I think the uggliest swing Ive ever witnessed involved full spinal flexion where this persons shoulders ended up near their knees.  If that werent bad enough, the swing continued into a full hyper extension with the kettlebell way overhead.  Ugh!!  I had to intervene and ask where they learned to swing a bell like that.   I was disgusted when I was told, "oh my trainer showed me."  Wow, is all I have to say. 
Swinging a kettlebell comes from the hips, not the arms or shoulders. 
1.  Start with the feet hip width apart.
2.  Push your hips back.  As far back as you can(think deadlifts) keeping your abs tight. 
3.  Grab the kettlebell, swing it back between your legs and then explode forward, extending from the hips and squeezing your glutes as hard as you can.  You should be standing straight up and not arching
4.  Control the bell during the lowering phase, absorbing the momentum with your hips, and loading for the next rep. 

Once you master and control the basic swing, there are many variations that you can do.  Once you have this awesome exercise in your arsenal, your workouts will never be the same.  

Lastly, lunges are constantly being done wrong.  I see a lot of people tracking their knees over the toes, heading for a knee injury of some sort.  This is especially true of forward and walking lunges.  People tend to let the bodies momentum carry them forward and into a compromising postition.  Another common error is lunging and letting the upper body fall foward, similar to the same problem with the squat. 
Here is your quick fix:
1.  You want to take a comfortable step forward and drive your hips DOWN towards the ground. 
2.  You do not want to drive your hips forward.  That will strain the knee too much. 
3.  Lower yourself till both knees hit 90 degrees, however making sure the back knee doesn't hit the ground. 
4.  Push off the front leg using the quads and glutes to come back into a standing position. 

A great way to progress up to lunging is by doing a split squat.  This is an exercise in which the lunge is held and you learn to push your hips down to the ground and back up again.  Once you master the split squat, then movement can be incorporated for an added challenge.  Another added challenge is adding upper body exercises to the lunge, but save that for when you have the skill and balance to complete basic lunges. 

Lunges also come in all planes of motion.  Off the top of my head I can think of 5 lunge variations. 
1. Forward
2, Reverse (step back lunge)
3.  Lateral or side lunge
4. Transverse (which is similar to side lunge, but on more of a 45 degree angle)
5.  Curtsy or crossing lunge (TRX is a big help on this one)

Master and learn the basics for all three of these exercises before you jump into trying all sorts of crazy things, just because you see other people doing it.  If you take one thing away from this post it should be:
"You must regress in order to progress"

Monday, November 12, 2012

Motivation Monday!!

"Don't dwell on the past and don't live in the future. Focus on today."

This is a good one for a Monday. Many people struggle over the weekend, especially with diet and come to the gym Monday morning to "try" and make up for weekend indulges. Doesn't work that way.
Today is a new day, get back on track and get after it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Train the movement!!

What a better day to discuss why you should train movement patterns and not body parts!
If you live in the northeast and just got slammed with snow, chances are you are digging yourself out. Shoveling away.
Shoveling snow is a movement pattern that requires squatting and shifting weight from side to side. Are you shoveling properly? Driving from the legs and hips? Or are you like most people and use your arms and low back? That's a recipe for disaster. That's why you need to train in 3D and use movements as part of your workouts.
Life is a series of three dimensional movements, usually involving a shifting in weight, either yours or what you're carrying/lifting. Start training like it!

Thankfully there is a great way to do that. Welcome to the world of training with ViPR. A hollow rubber tube with 3 handles allows for thousands of combinations of grips and movements whether they be how the hands are moving, the feet are moving, or the body is moving.
It's unique design allows for a complex movements and shifting/lifting patterns. What better way to prepare your body for life's daily challenges than training your body to handle forces from any angle.
Oddly enough on this snowy day, there is a shoveling movement pattern that would help out perfectly. It'll train you to drive with the legs, open and turn the hips, and remove that snow properly. ( or could just get a snow blower ha ha ha)

If you haven't experienced the fun and challenges of working with the ViPR, you are missing out and I highly suggest getting your hands on one with an experienced fitness professional. Preferably one with ViPR experience. Like me!!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Favorite things of the week

Here are some articles that I've read over the past week that I found interesting. I'm going to try to keep this a consistent post from week to week.

Are you making these mistakes?

I've talked about sitting in previous posts because it is a major health risk. Much of the population spends entirely way to much time sitting. Work, commuting in the car, at home watching tv, even when you're exercising (sitting machine to machine).
That can seriously stunt your ability to achieve your goals. Think about how much you sit, and try to cut down on it.

Found this website full of interesting healthy recipes. Already tried the sweet potato fries and lime/cilantro chicken. Delicious

Common workout mistakes

Myth about cardio. I hate cardio. I'd rather do sprints, battle ropes, kettlebell swings. Anything than boring slow state cardio. Especially for trying to lose fat. Don't get me wrong i used to love running for miles. But that was more mental than physical. FYI training for 3 marathons I didn't really lose any weight. Just sayin.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Motivation Monday

Hope this finds everyone with power and a warm, safe house. We were slammed on the east coast and there has been a lot of devastation. Makes you happy to have what you do. Things will get better and we can rebuild. And we will rebuild.
My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in NY and NJ especially in the hardest hit areas.

I thought this was an appropriate quote for today:

"Energy and persistence conquer all things." -Benjamin Franklin

If we keep at something, it'll eventually get better. That goes for anything in life.

Stay strong!

Friday, November 2, 2012

What are you thankful for?

It's November, and everyone starts thinking of what they are thankful for. Maybe because of Thanksgiving coming up or just the general holiday season.
This year I have lots to be thankful for, and based on the devastation that hit Long Island, NYC, Connecticut, and New Jersey, I have even more.
I'm thankful that I have such an amazing career that let's me help many people lead a healthier life.
I'm thankful for my family and that they are all healthy and safe.
I'm thankful for my son, who has been the best thing I have done with my life.
I'm thankful for my wife, for putting up with me and my crazy schedule.
Finally I'm thankful that I got the inspiration and courage to keep this site going. Usually I don't think my writing and what I have to say is useful, but if even one person learns something from me, then it's worth it.

Be thankful for what you do have and never take for granted what you have. You never know when it could be taken away.

What are you thankful for?